ANKHLEJOHN: «I stand on my own uniqueness, which is an art form in itself»
A unique personality and style are what distinguish the Washington D.C. rapper, ANKHLEJOHN, and make him, in our opinion, one of the most interesting MCs of the entire American underground scene. In this interview he told us about the very particular music scene of Washington D.C., about his albums with Big Ghost Ltd. and Rome Streetz, about his love for graffiti, his ambitions, his future plans and much more.
Peace ANKHLEJOHN, thank you for giving us the chance to ask you a few questions as we’re great fans of your music. 100%. First of all, you’re from the United States capital, Washington D.C. right? How would you describe the city and its urban areas to a foreigner? In your opinion, what are the elements that differentiate it from the other big cities of the East Coast and America, apart from the fact that it is the capital?
Peace to you brothers, and thank you for having me. Yes I am from DC, born and raised still here. DC is a magical city especially for its locals. A very for us-by us city as well as most of the culture has stayed in DC.
From the music to fashion, we have pretty much kept everything here while subtly influencing other cultures up and down the east coast. You’ll see many arguments about who started wearing 991 styled New Balances running shoes and that’s just one of them for example.
DC has some of the most beautiful women and some of the greatest athletes. Education is important here too. We have top tier schools here from Howard University to George Washington University and Georgetown.
Have you always lived in D.C. ? And what is the area of D.C. where do you come from? What was it like for you to grow up there and how did you come into close contact with Hip-Hop Culture as a kid there?
Yes I have always lived in DC, spent small time in Maryland as well but just on the border of DC. I grew up in the Southeast region of DC. Some would call it the poorest part of DC I’ll call it the blackest and richest part of DC in forms of culture. Hip Hop wasn’t really a factor here actually.
The heartbeat of DC is through the veins of Go-Go music. Congos, timbales, guitarist, drum sets, keyboardist, and vocalist. Remakes of our classic songs ranging from Hip hop, R&B and even elements of Rock and Roll. This sound has been around since the 70s or 80s (please be careful to quote me on that) and has originated with musicians like Chuck Brown (RIP).
Growing up here was pretty cool it has instilled a lot of core values in me and has made me sharp.
Washington D.C is about halfway between the North and the South states of the U.S. East Coast: from the point of view of the Hip-Hop culture, how has your city always differentiated itself from the rap scene of other east coast cities like New York? What were the major influences and how did they influence you growing up?
So back in the day it actually wasn’t cool to be a rapper in the once go-go dominated scene. Yeah you had some rappers here and there and some underground heads who even got deals. But nothing could compare to the go-go situation.
To make a long story shorter, rap started to become a thing and our first breakaway artist was Wale who is pretty much still the highest form of worldwide-known artist we have, but I’m definitely here to bridge that gap no question about it. There were artists who definitely influenced me one being my man Nate G. Another, Sir EU, Rahiem Supreme, Nappy Nappa, Atomos, etc. I would say we have influenced each other and these are some of my peers during my era. It was definitely some before us as well.
What is the Hip-Hop scene like today and who are the most successful artists in town? And how is its underground movement, from your point of view?
Well the previous guys I just named are all still out doing there thing and we collab from time to time but always in contact. Other than that, there’s a lot of music out here. The youngins are going crazy out here actually and have a flow that’s currently influencing the upper echelon of rap.
It’s pretty crazy actually we’ve always had the potential to really make shit happen but it’s other things that get in the way and the streets is the main reason a lot of beefs and stupid shit in the way. Shit is deeper than rap. We have to educate ourselves.
You emerged on our radar only when your album with the producer Big Ghost Ltd., “Van Ghost”, came out in 2018 For us it’s a contemporary “underground” classic! But what were your steps in your career as a Rap artist prior to releasing that album and at what moment did you take seriously the opportunity of pursuing a career as a rapper? Where does the name Ankhlejohn come from and does it have a precise meaning?
Thank you for that. Before that album I was still ANKHLEJOHN. Been me forever, it’s just about at what point did you get introduced to it. I was already on my way to greatness. Big Ghost just added on to that. He seen the vision. I had manifested that shit tho; I put the tweet out like a year or so before we even worked. Shit came together like magic. I started to take rap seriously way before that man. Matter of fact I had Big Ghost on my first album THE RED ROOM and that was 3-4 albums before Van Ghost. I’m probably the youngest rapper to work with him too, really everybody else at that time everybody was 30+ I was about 26 when I did that album so this is all in a short time span.
ANKHLEJOHN is from the ancient Egyptian (Kemetic) symbol ANKH which means eternal life. My slave name is John but respectfully that’s the name my mother gave me.
Speaking of “Van Ghost” with Big Ghost Ltd, how did that fantastic album come about? To whom and why came the idea of linking the album’s title/concept to the painter Van Gogh? Are you somehow into art or graffiti?
Like I said in the previous answer, I manifested it bro. Just spoke it out to the world that I wanted to work with Big Ghost and it end up happening. The process of recording it was very sweet and simple. And it was my idea for the theming of the album. Big Ghost provided the illustrious art work himself.
The references he used were pretty amazing and I’m sure he has the original painting still to this day I mean of course; it’s history.
And yes I am into Graffiti. Graffiti was my second love at one point beside hip hop. I actually became a fanatic after I played the video game GETTING UP by Marc Ecko. I didn’t go crazy but I use to carry around a fat ass sharpie and “Hello: My Name Is” stickers to draw some quick throwies or there.
I was even smaller than a toy. My experience is very low but my love for it is very high.
Graffiti artists are special to me, man, and my first real introduction into art. I couldn’t even get accepted into an art school because all I knew was graffiti LOL. True story.
Since that album, we think we haven’t missed any album of yours and for us they are all fire, for real. In your opinion which are the most important albums of your career and those you are most attached to and why?
Every album is important to me and stands for where I was at that time of life because I record very fast. It’s my therapy really so it’s very in the moment form of rap.
Reign Supreme album is pretty solid for me because I produced the entire album myself and named it after my son.
Sonically, I’m not too sure of the most important tho. I am more connected to my recent works of course since that’s where I’m more in life. No particular order but the most recent ones hit harder for me. Just better subject and easier delivery.
We find your style really unique and incredibly dope. What do you think inspired or helped you to develop such a “flair” style and flow?
Just wanting to challenge myself really and stand on my own uniqueness, which is an art form in itself. I’ve always been that way tho even beyond music.
Style is very important to me. Imagine if there was only throwies we seen on the walls. With basic white and black outline, bubble letters or whatever; it would get boring. So I come in with the wild style adding these different shapes to form letters you never knew could happen. I’m that guy.
One of the best Hip-Hop albums of last year, in our opinion, was the one you made with the now Griselda Records artist, Rome Streetz, called “Genesis 1:27”. How was that album born and how was it recorded? What is your connection with Rome Streetz and how was it born?
That album was put together by the producers Scrilla and Chop La Rock. We both had already did a song for my man Scrilla on some bitcoin shit and he wanted us back around to do an album so that’s how that happened. Simple and sweet. We recorded in our separate spaces then had to do some re-recordings for some of the tracks in New York.
I’ve been connected to Rome since about 2017 or maybe ’18 and it’s been tapped in since then. Few songs here and there I put him on the first produced song I ever really did called Paul Janseen and the rap relationship kinda started from there. I think we should work more personally I like the competitive nature he has.
Makes me want rap more and that’s all I really ask for in a collaboration (which is rare). 2021 was a collaborative year for me.
In our humble opinion, for example, your name could potentially fit the Griselda label the same way others do. Have you ever considered expanding your “reach” by signing to a record label or do you feel more comfortable and confident running alone with your strengths and building your own movement?
Yeah I get that a lot. I do acknowledge that the Griselda thing is a golden touch for an upcoming artist or damn near any artist (established). They have a pretty strong movement and fan base. But me, I always wanted to form my own thing. Something that can stand next to Griselda. You know?
We had Wu but we also had Mobb Deep and ATCQ also. Just variety. Something that has another unique aspect to it. At this point, I’m not sure if there are any brave enough to stand on that with me as everything is pretty much Griselda influenced or you’re a solo artist. I think something else should form or this shit will die out.
What can we expect from Ankhlejohn next?
I’m recording multiple albums right now. I have a Sadhugold (fully produced) project I’m working on, Nicholas Craven, August Fanon, Bane Capital, all fully produced albums. More shows, I want to tour Europe and Japan also some spots in Africa. Those are my next big goals. I need to focus on America first, right?
LOL I don’t know man I’m ready to explore the world.